Tensions over the Labrador Inuit – and the benefits they are entitled to from the federal government – have escalated nationally and in the Prime Minister’s Office.
Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, who represents Inuit in Canada, sent a letter on October 7 to Justin Trudeau, rejecting the position of the NunatuKavut Community Council as a separate Inuit organization. In it, ITK calls on the federal government to exclude the NCC from all federal Inuit programs, policies and benefits.
It is “alarming that NCC obtained eligibility for federal programs and initiatives on the basis of its claim that it is an Inuit organization,” reads the letter from ITK, signed by President Natan Obed and returned. public Tuesday.
The letter says it is both “puzzling and alarming” that the federal government is speaking to NCC with the possibility that it will be given rights and land “on the basis of claims that seem unfounded.”
The NCC and Ottawa signed a memorandum of understanding in 2019 to discuss a range of topics from health care to a land claims agreement. The NCC says it represents approximately 6,000 Inuit and people of Inuit descent in southern and central Labrador; it was known as the Labrador MÃ©tis Council until 2010 when it changed its name to reflect the legacy of its members.
This memorandum prompted a reaction from the Innu Nation, which represents the Innu in Labrador, and Nunatsiavut, covering the Inuit of northern Labrador, one of the four Inuit regions of Canada collectively known as Inuit Nunangat. In September, both groups rejected NCC’s land claim, although the Nunatsiavut government said NCC may have Indigenous members.
ITK’s letter follows the example of Nunatsiavut, stating that âthere is no Inuit territory outside of the four regions that make up Inuit Nunangatâ.
In an interview on Wednesday, Obed said ITK’s position stems from both academic research and Inuit oral history.
âThe very logic, that we could work on land claims in this country from the 1970s, and that one way or another, in 2010, there would be a new Inuit collective that other Inuit regions do not just didn’t know – it’s really a hard thing to come to terms with, âhe said.
In a statement released late Wednesday afternoon, the council said ITK had “no authority to deny the Inuit of NunatuKavut access to much-needed federal programs and services.”
“It is appalling and disgusting that they choose to write such an ill-informed and discriminatory letter about NCC and our people and without our knowledge,” the statement read.
âITK does not have the right to unilaterally determine Inuit identity, nor how the CNC should be recognized by the federal government. self-determined research. “
Labrador MP Yvonne Jones, a NCC member who has publicly defended the council – and who had to defend her own Inuit identity earlier this year – did not respond to requests for comment. NCC President Todd Russell was not available for an interview.
The NCC said it has invited Obed to NunatuKavut on several occasions and encouraged him “to learn about the Inuit of NunatuKavut, our history and our stories of connection.”
The group said the offer is still open.
“It is clear that greater understanding is needed more than ever,” the statement read.
“There is so much at stake”
ITK’s letter criticized the federal government’s process for dealing with the NCC, saying it “sets an alarming and disturbing precedent” for others “with fraudulent claims to historic Indigenous heritage.”
“This is one of the defining issues of the 21st century when it comes to indigeneity and the self-identification of indigeneity,” Obed told CBC radio. Labrador morning.
It is a problem that is popping up across Canada and affecting MÃ©tis, First Nations and Inuit groups, he said.
âThere are so many issues now, and there are so many ways that groups can benefit from Indigenous status, that it’s just something we’re going to have to work with and try to articulate very clearly where we are. so. on this issue, “he said.
For Obed and ITK, the position is clear. Part of Inuit self-determination, he said, is the ability to define its members, âand that’s what we’re doing hereâ.
Obed said Ottawa’s interactions with NCC force Indigenous peoples to “define themselves in relation to what the federal government has chosen”, and expanding the definition of who Inuit are “is confusing.”
Expanding that definition does not match expanding federal programs and funding for Inuit, Obed said. He and ITK want reassurance that NCC is not authorized to access federal government Inuit-specific resources, now or in the future.
âThese are limited resources. These are programs and services that we desperately need, and we just need to make sure that Inuit take advantage of these opportunities, âhe said.
ITK has not spoken to any federal government official since the letter was sent, but Obed said he expects those conversations to happen.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the federal Department of Crown-Indigenous Relations and Northern Affairs said the purpose of the discussions is to find “shared and balanced solutions that advance reconciliation in a way that respects interests. members of the NCC and all Canadians â.
“If the rights of an indigenous group, including the rights claimed, are infringed by the proceeds of these discussions, the Government of Canada will consult as appropriate,” the statement said.
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